When Rep. Bob Goodlatte emerged from the back of a "self driven" Lexus as it pulled off of the Virginia Tech Smart Road, he said he was impressed. But then, it was the second time he had ridden in Google's driverless vehicle.
"The first time was in Washington, D.C.. Narrow streets, cars on both sides of the road both directions to see this vehicle pull itself to the side of the road. Speed up to pass. To identify pedestrians and stop for them, traffic lights -- and so on it was a fantastic experience," said Goodlatte.
The car has been at Virginia Tech for at least a month, and testing is on-going for the next few weeks, as researchers at Tech collaborate with Google on the human side of automated driving.
How much automation do drivers really want? How much can they handle?
"We are looking at usability testing. What the drivers like the vehicle, what they think about the vehicle and what they would like to see in the future," said Myra Blanco, a Virginia Tech researcher.
The Smart Road offers a nice section of safe, closed highway, where Google can push the limits of driverless car technology.
The road, a project of the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute, seems the perfect place for such testing, and validation to lawmakers who initially funded the road, thinking it would bring jobs and investment.
"Certainly the research phase -- not just Google but others, is already bringing jobs. They tell me VTTI has 400 employees and working on $30 million a year," said Rep. Morgan Griffith.
Beyond everything else, it's pretty cool to see a car going by at speed, capable of stopping, starting and pulling over -- without the driver touching anything.
"It's one of those futuristic types of things that you knew someday would happen, but you didn't realize it was happening now."